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Big Orange Slide

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

The agency of the future

November 17, 2010 by Jacoub Bondre

Illustration by Nancy Ng

This year I have been asked to speak at Humber College’s Adweek symposium along with industry peeps like Cam Wykes, Ignacio Oreamuno and Barry Quinn. The question to be addressed: “What does an advertising agency look like in 2020?”

Admittedly, the question has me in new territory. While I have never shied away from making short-term predictions, I prefer to make suggestions or play the skeptic. Personally, I don’t believe anyone can accurately predict where technology or social trends will head in the long term. Chaos theory dictates that emergent phenomena, like the Internet or social media, cannot be predicted or replicated (thanks Jason Theodor!)

All that being said, what we can do is examine the factors that can and will likely have a profound effect on our industry over the next decade.


Convergence is the ongoing process of all media amalgamating into one large complex channel. The most apt example of this is ubiquitous access to media through any number of devices. At any given time, I can surf the web, watch TV and movies, listen to the radio, and communicate and read through my computer, mobile device or game console. The combination of channels will be, in my opinion, the final step to the digital space’s being fully integrated into agency models and culture. Agencies that embrace this will be giants – and not of the dinosaur variety.


I’ve made no mystery of how I think social media is shaping marketing territory. Customers still want to consume all types of advertising, as long as it is compelling and provides them with some value.  But customers also want to be part of the conversation. They want to feel as if they have influence over the brands they love.

I anticipate the rise of community management. Whether people are called social media experts, community managers or social strategists, agencies will need to ensure their offices are staffed with people who understand how brands can talk with their consumers.

Illustration by Nancy Ng

Generalists on top

A few months ago I wrote a post titled “A prescription for a new agency” in which I defended the role of both generalists and specialists in the new world order of agencyland. Generalists understand their client’s business needs on a creative and strategic level, and also have a broad understanding of all the channels available to communicate with the consumer. Specialists will have an expert knowledge of key channels, as well as an understanding of how the latter plug into the larger campaign.  Generalists can “diagnose” the client’s objective and refer to the proper specialists to execute against it.

At this point I feel it disingenuous not to mention Ignacio’s Giant Hydra model, in which generalists make up the core of the agency, supported by a larger network of skilled and proven specialists. In this case, specialists are not permanent members of the core agency, which makes it quite flexible. Giant Hydra can tailor its teams based on each client ask.  While not questioning the viability of this model, I’d question its ability to maintain the depth of brand affinity that comes from consistency and permanence.

The Unknown

Master Yoda aside, no one can predict the future. But I’m prepared to wager an educated guess that the biggest challenge agencies will face is adapting to growing collaborative models. Any agency that doesn’t want to believe that creatives can think strategically, producers can think creatively and client service personnel can think productively, is missing the boat. My hope is both for a decline in “discipline-based” hires and an upsurge in finding the smart and curious and resourceful. I feel pretty well poised in my own agency for that.

12 Comments on "The agency of the future"

  • Stuart Thursby
    November 17, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. The disciplines will change as well, and while some big agencies will take the hit, and some small agencies will take the hit…at the end of the day, there will still be the big fish, the medium fish, and the little fish. There will still be generalist shops, or specialist shops, hybrid shops or new shops we can’t conceive of.

    All in all, it’s an industry that’s prone to bursts of rapid change. Ideas of what the agency of the future is change every 5-10 years in reaction to the marketplace and broader marketing world, and ultimately it’s the smart and flexible who’ll survive, whatever their size.

    That said…I’m a pretty big fan of the house-of-generalists-supported-by-a-network-of-specialists technique you mentioned above that Giant Hydra employs. It’s the same model the ad and design business has been based off of for decades; it’s simply the respective levels of generalist or specialist that have changed.

  • Atash Khosrorad
    November 17, 2010 @ 1:14 pm

    As a student I think it’s refreshing to see how there is hope for less “disciplined” hires, and I think that is what makes this agency so attractive. The world of advertising as a business, opposed to advertising as education, can be terrifying as it is unknown to most of us in training. I love how it is noted how avoiding of hindering of personality makes absolute sense with the giant mass collaboration- as to say maintain individuality in order to contribute to the mass unit of the whole. Hopefully we can all one day be a hydra-head in the alligator swamp.

  • simon billing
    November 17, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

    There’s a great prezo from one of the managing partners of Goodby that I’ve linked to here (sorry about the link bait – well not really), talks about the process they went through to reorientate the agency.

  • Tweets that mention The agency of the future « Big Orange Slide --
    November 17, 2010 @ 2:06 pm

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Stuart Thursby, elainethebrain, vincedaenen, Andrew Spearin, Josh Velez and others. Josh Velez said: RT @bigorangeslide: Today on the Slide: The agency of the future [...]

  • Leilah Ambrose
    November 17, 2010 @ 2:07 pm

    Fast Company is also running an article on this topic.

  • Dondy Razon
    November 17, 2010 @ 5:50 pm

    Great article Jacob.

    I think mainly cause a lot of is conversations we’ve had over articles you’ve written before :)

    Anyway I think the section about “The Unknown” is right on point! And the addition of Stuart’s comment about “Big fish, medium fish and small fish” paints the picture for me about the agency of the future.

    Giant Hydra model is great if you have a lot of time to produce the work. So I’ll just stick with hiring the right people and using specialist when we need and can! :)

  • Adam Gordon
    November 17, 2010 @ 5:51 pm

    Very well-written and VERY thought provoking.
    I especially liked the part about the decline in “discipline-based” jobs in advertising. The one-trick pony is dead.

  • Andrew
    November 17, 2010 @ 8:49 pm

    Convergence has been a concept since 1999 and over ten years later, still know one knows how to leverage the disparate types of media into a unified information channel.

    The internet is still a dumb pipe of information that gets dumped into the technology that you are using.

  • Sean McLean
    November 17, 2010 @ 9:58 pm

    This seems awfully familiar…

  • Jacoub Bondre
    November 18, 2010 @ 12:50 pm

    @ Sean Hey Sean, it really is a summation of several articles I have written for the slide over the last year, and previous presentations I have made. I decided to write the article as a means to get my thoughts down on paper before the symposium yesterday.

    @ Andrew I agree my friend, save some exceptions in the gaming industry, where cinematic experiences and game mechanics are starting to merge nicely and effectively. That being said, some of the best examples of this (Star Wars: Force Unleashed Series for example) are not received well by critics. But the masses seem to like them. I know I do.

  • Jacob Karsemeyer
    November 18, 2010 @ 3:42 pm

    “Trying to predict the future is a discouraging and hazardous occupation

    If his predictions sound at all reasonable you can be quite sure that in 20 or at most 50 years the progress of science and technology has made him seem ridiculously conservative. On the other hand if by some miracle a prophet could describe the future exactly as it was going to take place his predictions would sound so absurd, so far fetched that people everyone would laugh him to scorn.

    The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I will have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen. ” – Arthur C. Clarke.

    Sorry for the long quote, but I thought it was quite relevant.

    Great article, I think you’ve really nailed some of the trends that will (hopefully) turn into standards.

    Long live the generalist!

  • Anthony Kalamut
    November 23, 2010 @ 11:59 pm

    May I suggest additional reading on the topic from an interesting perspective… “The True Future” of the business, the students currently preparing to enter the business.

    These are “Digital Natives” who get it, live it and want it. They want to make change and they will make change.

    Interesting perspective.

    Scott Goodson of Strawberry Frog wrote this piece for Forbes asking “Are You Listening To The Future of Advertising?”

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